Jack Dunne scores for Exeter. Ashley Crowden/INPHO
Under Pressure

Munster collapse in second half as Exeter scorch to Champions Cup win

Graham Rowntree’s men were 24-13 ahead early in the second half but fell apart.

Exeter 32

Munster 24

WHEN MUNSTER NOTCHED their bonus point try with just 50 minutes gone, their travelling fans could have been forgiven for breathing a little easier. 24-13 to the good at Sandy Park, it seemed at that stage that Graham Rowntree’s men might be able to close this one out in relatively comfortable fashion.

Instead, Munster endured a horror half hour that leaves their Champions Cup campaign in big trouble. After the disappointment of last weekend’s draw at home against Bayonne, they needed a win here. They seemed to be on their way to achieving exactly that but instead leave Exeter hugely dejected.

Exeter deserve major credit for their resilience as they followed up last weekend’s comeback win away to Toulon with another one at home, yet Munster should rue a massive missed chance on the road, having earned themselves a winning position that they let slip in alarming fashion.

They even let one of their losing bonus points dash away in the closing minutes as Henry Slade raced away for an intercept try that meant Exeter grabbed a full five-point haul from this outing.

Munster did get a try-scoring bonus point themselves thanks to scores from Calvin Nash, Tom Ahern, Antoine Frisch, and Shane Daly but their Pool 3 campaign has begun worryingly. With just three match points from their opening two games, Munster have a huge job on their hands as they face into a trip to Toulon and a home clash with Northampton in January.

Their hopes of a home draw for the Round of 16 certainly appear to be gone but they have work to do to ensure they actually get through as one of the top four sides in the six-team pool.

This is miserable stuff for the URC champions and they will feel they only have themselves to blame. Exeter refused to give up, as you’d expect under the highly-regarded Rob Baxter, but Munster’s collapse in the final half-hour was also self-inflicted to a large degree.

They lacked composure in getting out of their own half, made some sloppy handling errors, and crumbled after playing some excellent rugby to get into that winning position. They’ve left themselves with a huge amount of work to do in January.

thomas-ahern-celebrates-scoring-his-teams-second-try Munster celebrate Tom Ahern's first-half try. Ashley Crowden / INPHO Ashley Crowden / INPHO / INPHO

A riveting first half saw Exeter picking up where they left off in last weekend’s win away to Toulon by bringing frenetic linespeed that produced an early intercept for influential centre Slade, but Munster had the smarts to respond.

A clever kick from Jack Crowley down the left allowed Daly to chop down Exeter wing Ben Hammersley, which in turn saw Munster’s Seán O’Brien jackal for a penalty that they put into the left corner.

The Munster maul was stopped but Crowley carried superbly on a loop play, surges from Gavin Coombes and John Hodnett further narrowed the Exeter defence, then Craig Casey lofted a 30-metre pass wide for Nash to finish. The right wing stepped back inside Tom Wyatt to make the conversion slightly easier and Crowley nailed it for a 7-0 lead eight minutes in.

But Exeter soon got access into the Munster 22 when the Irish province chased poorly in one exchange, allowing Wyatt to slice through, a string of offloads bringing them into Munster territory where Beirne was penalised for not releasing after a tackle.

The English side went into the left corner and, as so often proves the case from close range, they battered their way through phases to find an opening, hooker Dan Frost getting underneath Jack O’Donoghue and Alex Nankivell for a try converted by Slade.

alex-nankivell Alex Nankivell carries for Munster. Ashley Crowden / INPHO Ashley Crowden / INPHO / INPHO

Munster missed a 23rd-minute chance in Exeter’s 22 as they overthrew a lineout but they were soon scorching away for their second try as Crowley’s masterful diagonal kick to the right found Ahern holding width. The Déise Dynamo gathered on the bounce on the halfway line ahead of Wyatt then simply scorched home past Tom Cairns for a wonderful score.

Crowley couldn’t convert from wide on the right and Exeter were able to close the margin with three points from Slade’s boot after a tough penalty against John Hodnett, who appeared to have won a legit jackal turnover. Referee Mathieu Raynal disagreed.

As the absorbing first half ticked past the half-hour mark, Munster nearly scored off the next restart, the increasingly lively Calvin Nash regathering Crowley’s drop-off and offloading to Antoine Frisch, whose return offload inside was intercepted and carried into touch by Exeter. Munster piled on more pressure from close range but Exeter’s defence held firm and Cairns picked off Crowley’s attempted killer pass to lift the siege.

Munster kept coming and had their third try in the 37th minute as Casey sniped with penalty advantage playing close to the Exeter 22-metre line. He deftly offloaded to Ahern and the towering flanker found Crowley, whose classy, instinctive inside pass gave Daly time on the ball to float a bridge pass out to Frisch on the right touchline. He had the pace to finish a superb score that Crowley again converted from a tough spot.

Munster still had to defend their line before the break, but a superb try-saving tackle by Daly in the corner on Exeter flanker Jacques Vermeulen was followed soon after by a characteristic Beirne jackal turnover within metres of the Munster line.

rusi-tuima-with-john-hodnett-and-craig-casey Exeter lock Rusi Tuima is tackled by John Hodnett of Munster. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

19-10 to the good, Munster started the second half encouragingly as Beirne picked off an Exeter lineout but he was soon pinged for not rolling away from a tackle and Slade slotted his shot at goal to close the gap.

The home side sensed a chance to grab momentum, so it was timely that Coombes came up with a big breakdown turnover on Exeter’s next visit into the Munster 22. 

Rowntree’s men got the message and decided it was time to strike back. They surged up the left through Frisch and then Daly before the former dummied to nearly break in midfield but then offloaded beautifully to hooker Diarmuid Barron arriving on his right shoulder. Barron was hauled down, yet Munster were patient and slick hands by Nankivell sent Daly over on the right for the unconverted bonus-point try.

Coombes helped himself to another breakdown turnover, his repositioning into the second row clearly not dissuading him from poaching. The next time the Chiefs came knocking on the Munster five-metre line, Beirne made a brilliant choke tackle turnover.

Still, Munster struggled to get out. Replacement scrum-half Conor Murray box-kicked out on the full to invite more pressure and the Chiefs soon converted as they battered underneath the posts for sub back row Ross Vintcent to dot down a TMO-confirmed try that Slade converted.

With just over 15 minutes later, the home side were back within four points at 24-20.

antoine-frisch-celebrates-scoring-a-try Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Munster should have been home and hosed by now but instead they were rocked. Exeter exited from their 22, Hammersley won the ball back and sub scrum-half Stu Townsend immediately followed up with a long kick in behind. Nash couldn’t gather as he turned back towards his own line and former Leinster lock Jack Dunne – only just on the pitch – blasted through him to claim the bobbling ball and finish with glee.

Exeter led for the first time in the game and Slade’s conversion had them 27-24 to the good.

Munster were wobbling now so a turnover penalty won by hooker Barron in the 70th minute was badly needed, as was a high-tackle penalty for Exeter out-half Harvey Skinner’s high tackle on Crowley a minute later.

Munster went down the other end but Murray knocked on in a tackle inside the Exeter 22 and the game ended with the uncharacteristically error-prone veteran scrum-half throwing an intercept pass to Slade for Exeter’s bonus-point try.

This was a truly miserable afternoon for Munster when it had promised so much.

Exeter scorers:

Tries: Dan Frost, Ross Vintcent, Jack Dunne, Henry Slade

Conversions: Henry Slade [3 from 4]

Penalties: Henry Slade [2 from 2]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Calvin Nash, Tom Ahern, Antoine Frisch, Shane Daly

Conversions: Jack Crowley [2 from 4]

EXETER: Tommy Wyatt; Olly Woodburn (Rory O’Loughlin ’52), Henry Slade, Joe Hawkins (Ollie Devoto ’61), Ben Hammersley; Harvey Skinner, Tom Cairns (Stu Townsend ’52); Scott Sio (Nika Abuladze ’52), Dan Frost (Max Norey ’52, HIA reversal ), Ehren Painter (Marcus Street ’52); Rusi Tuima (Jack Dunne ’55), Dafydd Jenkins (captain); Lewis Pearson, Jacques Vermeulen (Ross Vintcent ’55), Greg Fisilau.

MUNSTER: Shane Daly; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Alex Nankivell, Seán O’Brien (Ben O’Connor ’78); Jack Crowley, Craig Casey (Conor Murray ’58); Jeremy Loughman (Josh Wycherley ’68), Diarmuid Barron (Eoghan Clarke ‘), Stephen Archer (Oli Jager ’58); Gavin Coombes, Tadhg Beirne (captain); Tom Ahern, John Hodnett (Alex Kendellen ’72), Jack O’Donoghue (Brian Gleeson ’69).

Replacements not used: Eoghan Clarke, Rory Scannell.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [France].

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